“It’s hard to plan for the unknowns,” police Commissioner Richard Ross said.
Philadelphia police have enlisted state police and cops from five counties to help with security.
They’ll have free water, misting stations and open sprinkler caps on fire hydrants to keep protesters and other visitors cool during a triple-digit heat wave.
They’ve tweaked the security plan in response to tragedies elsewhere, like putting up additional barricades around the city to thwart a truck massacre like Nice, France.
Philadelphia city officials held a news conference Sunday at the Office of Emergency Management headquarters to assure the world that they’re ready for the Democratic National Convention, which will start here Monday. Mostly, they repeated the same mantra they’ve trumpeted for months: City officials hope for peace but are prepared for chaos.
“We are cautiously optimistic that things will go well,” police Commissioner Richard Ross said.
Still, he added: “It’s hard to plan for the unknowns.”
Police have gotten several threats but none investigators deemed credible, Ross said.
The commissioner said he doesn’t expect mass arrests – but the city is prepared for them. Police arrested more than 400 protesters during the Republican National Convention here in 2000, but most were ultimately cleared without convictions, and the city’s insurer paid $1.8 million to resolve resulting civil-rights lawsuits.
“You learn from some of the things you did before,” Ross said Sunday. “We’ll be a lot more patient and tolerant with many of the protesters and demonstrators.”
Ross traveled to Cleveland several weeks ago to compare notes with other big-city police chiefs in a gathering organized by the Police Executive Research Forum, and Philly officers were “on the ground” in Cleveland to get “vital intelligence,” he said. All came home more confident in the security measures they’ve adopted for the DNC, he added.
After attacks on police in Baton Rouge and Dallas left eight officers dead, officials acknowledged that is a worry here.
“Clearly, we are always concerned about our police officers, it’s a very dangerous job, you never know what they’re going to be confronted with,” Ross said.
More immediately, officials worried the extreme heat now stifling the region will be a problem.
“It is important to take excessive heat seriously,” Mayor Jim Kenney said. “The city already had four heat-related deaths this year.”
Care of protesters
The city has set up two medic tents and two misting stations at the demonstration zone in FDR Park, and free bottled water will be available along protest routes and in the park.
The heat is especially concerning given that many protesters plan to camp outside overnight. That’s against city laws, and city officials have repeatedly said campers will be booted from FDR Park and a “Clintonville” anti-poverty activists set up in North Philadelphia.
But Bernie Sanders supporters tweeted Sunday that they were “informally” told that overnight camping would be “tolerated.”
Today, Ross said illegal encampments would be “evaluated as they arise.”
City officials also said Sunday that most merchants have complied with a Licenses & Inspections and City Streets initiative to clear crowded city sidewalks of unauthorized sandwich boards and other items to accommodate pedestrians and protesters. Inspectors removed 297 unsecured honor boxes that blocked pedestrians’ paths, and ordered contractors to reopen any sidewalks blocked off without permits.
Meanwhile in South Philadelphia, the Wells Fargo Center was abuzz Sunday, as singers belted out tunes and musicians tested their instruments on the sound system, TV reporters did live shots, and workers continued last-minute chores. Stephen Colbert ran around in a blue wig as he did his DNC version of his Hungry for Power Games. Gov. Tom Wolf was there too, doing an interview for CNN on an outdoor stage.
And in Center City, demonstrations got under way.
Thousands of protesters participated in a major climate change rally. Bernie Sanders supporters marched nearly 4 miles under the searing sun from Center City to FDR Park in South Philadelphia. Many protesters said they expect a peaceful week.
“Everyone here is in a good mood, they’re in a hopeful mood and when you’re in that kind of mood you don’t see violence,” said Shannon Frye of Toledo, Ohio.
Laura Hockenberry traveled from Grand Rapids, Michigan, with her 14-year-old daughter to support Sanders.
“This is new,” she said, looking at the sizable crowd around her. “We’ve been to one demonstration, and it was very small. I didn’t get in the car and come here for anything other than my pure passion for this.”
Philadelphia officials expect up to 50,000 people to take the streets each day to express their passions.
“Watching the Republican National Convention, if they went through that without huge clampdowns on the street and huge violent episodes, we can get through this just fine,” said Gabe Shames of Boston, Massachusetts.
Back at the Office of Emergency Management, Mayor Kenney waxed philosophical as he pondered the week to come – and the negativity of the Republican National Convention last week.
“What this country needs now is four days of positivity,” Kenney said. “The key to this whole thing is just to try to show some love, try to show some understanding. People are hurting, people are angry, people are fearful. And we need to put the country back on track, but we can’t put it back on track with marginalization. We have to include everyone.”
He added: “That’s what our message has been here when it comes to protesters, delegates, citizens, elected officials. We need to come together in a unified way to make this country move forward.
That’s what we’re looking forward to doing. (The country) needs some inclusion, it needs some love, it needs some hope, it needs some energy. What we’re living in is difficult times, but it’s not all a downer. This country is a great country, and to have a major party candidate talk so badly about our country’s situation, I think this country needs to hear from us and to hear from positive people.”